I am grateful to have some flowers that were part of my great grandmother’s garden–some pale purple Bearded Iris. If you have Iris in your garden, you know that they multiply enough to share. These Iris went to my grandmother, to my mother and to me. I gave a bucketful to my sister a few years ago. Having these Iris helps me to remember the brave woman that was my great grandmother, coming to the United States by herself at eighteen, speaking no English, to make a new life for herself. She walked up the street to her parish church, St. Hyacinth’s, nearly every day where she, alongside other women would clean as part of her contribution to the care and upkeep of her church home. I am also grateful to have several of her hand-embroidered linens, many depicting flowers. Sometimes I run my finger along the lines, feeling the bumps of the knots, just as her hand would have. I marvel that these women had none of the modern conveniences we had–no front-loading washers, no pizza delivery. They had the milkman in a horse-drawn wagon one day, the green grocer another. They cooked and cleaned and canned and starched and pressed and sewed and embroidered. And gardened. I’m sure many of you have similar family stories.
If you remember your high school literature class, you might recall Ophelia’s soliloquy where she says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.” So many of our favorite garden plants help us remember. Sometimes this remembrance is from fragrance. In our brains the area for scent perception is located near our memory storage bank, providing the association of fragrance to memory. Sometimes it is the name of a plant, such as “Forget-Me-Not” that inspires the memories. I realize this is all highly personal and that you probably have some favorites of your own–so please share in the note area below as I’d love to hear about them.
1. Oriental lilies. When I was a bride, I had nine bridesmaids as a way to involve as many friends and family from both sides as I could. The predominate flower was “Casa Blanca” lily–soft white and super fragrant. When I went to the florist to pay the final balance, her shop was filled nearly end to end with buckets filled with lilies. I love the spicy fragrance and whenever it floats my way I am filled with happy thoughts;
2. I mentioned the Iris already. There were some here when we moved in and I’ve relocated them about the current garden; these are a sort of tan with a wine-colored throat. Subtle in color. They remind me of the evolution of our garden over time;
3. Last autumn I helped a client prune some hydrangeas and brought the debris back in my truck. Since the last brush pick up had past, I just added them to the compost heap. Just the other day, I saw something growing out of the heap. On closer investigation I saw it was the hydrangea that had not only rooted but sprouted, complete with bud. So I took a piece out and planted it properly as I had a place for one. This client is a mighty smart and talented woman so I am glad to have a plant that will always remind me of her and how successful she is, a consummate pro on every level;
4. False Indigo “Purple Smoke.” I have noticed in my garden that many plants grow much bigger than they are said to. I don’t think this is has as much to do with my skill as a gardener as it does with the years of soil amendments and good light conditions. “Purple Smoke” is one example. In my garden it grew six feet wide and nearly as tall. It exceeded the narrow space, falling over other plants, so it had to go. I didn’t even consider transplanting as it has this huge taproot and digging it out intact would be near impossible. I just had my helper chop away until it was gone. I am not exaggerating when I say it took him half an hour. Back it went to the compost heap as well. And there it came back alongside the hydrangea. I figured since it had so much tenacity for life, I ought to honor it and found an appropriate place for with room enough to be what it wants to be. The reminder for me is the power of persistence;
5. My friend Alan said that he has a heartfelt attachment to Rhododendron; he remembers riding out to the country with his mother as a young child to select some that were in the family’s front garden for years and years. We just removed one at his current place the other day that was too big for the place where it was planted. I suggested we plant another in an appropriate spot in order to retain his fond memory.
Things work the other way, too. I’ve had clients tell me they did not want any lilies in the garden because the same fragrance for them reminds them of funerals. I also recall childhood trips to the nursery with my mother and grandmother, sitting in the back seat of Grandma’s 1967 Chevy Impala. I”m not sure if it was the exhaust fumes getting to me or the abundance of perfume and AquaNet. Thinking of those trips make me nauseous.
Fortunately I have overcome the difficulty in driving distances for plants.